New Data Shows More People Turning to Social Media Platforms for Medical Advice
According to a new study from the Center for Connected Health, more people are looking for health care information and resources online, including social media platforms like Facebook. It doesn’t matter what the issue is — anything from a small cut to signs of cancer are now being searched on public platforms. But the problem with this trend, as multiple industry experts have noted, is that the information is not always accurate, and findings must be taken with a grain of salt.
Research scientist Timothy Hale, who focuses on a study about Facebook and healthcare searches, notes that health issues are being discussed on social media sites more so than ever before. Even serious health concerns, such as cancer, are openly discussed on public platforms; even though cancer-related posts only made up 12% of the healthcare postings counted, the “likes” on cancer-related posts made up 90% of all “likes” on healthcare pages. Hale notes that this huge number gap is a representation of how people are showing support — a Facebook user who has directly experienced cancer or knows someone else who has is more likely to show empathy and support on sites like Facebook. Not only does this popularity increase awareness of the disease and encourage Facebook users to be more aware of their own health, but it helps de-stigmatize the disease by allowing for open discussions.
On the other hand, Hale notes, social media awareness and acceptance is limited to very particular health issues and diseases. An issue like breast cancer is very marketable and is represented well online — between the pink ribbon symbol and the widespread occurrence of the disease, many Facebook users won’t hesitate to support a breast cancer awareness page. Something like raising awareness about strokes is not so easy, and, as Hale points out, a Facebook search for “strokes” returns a result for a band called “The Strokes.” Other healthcare issues, like colon screenings or mental health problems, are more subject to cultural stigma and are, therefore, not discussed as often on public forums.
Although Facebook may not be the best place to find medical information, doctors are becoming more aware that their patients are turning to online resources for health issues — for better or worse — and are encouraging patients to find reliable and secure sites. Finding social and emotional support is strongly connected to physical rehabilitation, and patients who are more knowledgeable about their condition(s) are often easier to work with and more confident in the professional approaches used by doctors. Although a certain amount of care should be taken when consulting online forums for medical news, it appears that the digital age is finally starting to present tangible benefits for the public across the board.